UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA
University of California
UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA

Tips for Any Time

Monthly tips are categorized by: To-Dos, What to Plant, or Pests and Diseases. Scroll through the list to see items in each category.

1. To-do

  • Composting -

    Composting is a good way to repurpose yard and kitchen waste, and it provides a free method to feed plants and improve soil structure. If you are unsure about how to begin composting, take a look at this simple how-to compost page. You can also go to the UCCE Composting Education Program website to learn more about free two-hour classes offered throughout the county.

    As the weather warms up, compost piles dry out faster. Keep compost piles as damp as a wrung-out sponge to keep organisms alive and working on decomposing yard waste. Turning the pile to incorporate more oxygen also supports life in the compost pile.

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Drip Irrigation -

    Low volume drip irrigation systemConsider various forms of irrigation conversion! Irrigation systems, especially drip and micro-sprinklers, have drastically improved over the last few years. For example, there are kits that convert pop-up sprinkler heads to low-flow systems. The conversion kits include a pressure regulator to control changes in pressure and a filter to improve water quality. Water usage is reduced through better water management, control of distribution and less loss from evaporation. Other advantages include :

    - Water is placed more accurately and efficiently in the root zone, it is applied at a slow rate that reduces loss from runoff.
    - Dry soil between plants allows you to work in the garden between irrigating.

    The key to success is watering long enough to supply adequate water to the root zone. Inappropriate watering commonly damages landscape plants. As with any irrigation system, they are efficient only when soil around the plants being irrigated is regularly monitored for proper moisture levels (Reference: UC Pest Note Poor Water Management, Poor Drainage).

    - April, May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Extending the life of cut flowers -

    Use lemon-lime soda or lemon juice to extend the life of cut flowers.  The following mixtures supply food for the flowers and enough acidity to deter microbial activity.

    • Lemon-lime soda mixture. Mix 1 part regular lemon-lime soda (not diet soda) with
      3 parts warm water. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon of household bleach per quart of this solution.
    • Lemon juice mixture. Mix 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (fresh or bottled), 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of bleach per quart of warm water.

    For more information, refer to Extending the Freshness of Cut Flowers at Home.

    - Any month
  • Free the Trees -

    As your young trees grow bigger and stronger, remove supporting stakes or loosen the straps as early as possible. Some movement of the tree is important to make it healthier in the long run. If the tree is able to stand on its own, it will develop a thicker trunk with a taper at the bottom.

    - September, Any month
  • Garden Sanitation -

    Remove spent blossoms, fruit, and other plant parts as your plants finish producing. Dead and decaying plant parts can attract pests and give them safe places to breed. If pests are given a nice place to spend the winter, their populations are likely to be much higher next year.

    - July, August, September, Any month
  • House Plant Care -

    You may notice your house plants leaning towards the windows. A good way to keep the growth uniform is to rotate them a quarter turn every time you water. And don't water so much that you're seeing lots of yellow leaves and gnats. Look at UCCE Guide for Care of Indoor Plants for more information.

    - February, Any month
  • Mulch - a Gardener's Best Friend -

    Mulching around your plants has many benefits. It holds in moisture by reducing evaporation from the soil, keeps weed seeds from being able to germinate, and moderates the temperature of the soil so that it doesn't vary as much with direct sun and changes in air temperature. Mulching can cool the soil for plants like blueberries and it will help hold some heat in for summer vegetables as the air gets cooler.

    Mulch will guard against soil erosion when the rains start. Organic mulch such as wood chips or bark will slowly break down and improve your soil over time.

    It is recommended to keep mulch six inches away from trunks and twelve inches away from buildings. If you are confused about the difference between compost and mulch, then UCCE's Soil Management - Compost versus Mulch Comparison will help.

    Many local tree trimming companies are happy to deliver free wood trimmings that can excellent mulch - just be sure that the trimmings are disease- and palm- and eucalyptus- free. This can be hard to guarantee. Straw (not hay) from the local feed store can also be inexpensive, effective mulch.

    - May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Soil Management - Compost vs Mulch -

    Many home gardeners are confused about the terms “compost” and “mulch;” frequently these terms are used interchangeably, but they are not really the same thing. Here is a Comparison of Soil and Mulch from UCCE.

    Amend soil with compost to create soil that will retain water but still drain well enough for roots to have the air and water they need.

    Benefits of compost
    - Forms aggregate particles with clay
    - Creates larger pore spaces for water & air
    - Helps release nutrients from clay so that plant roots can absorb them
    - Supports the soil foodweb by providing nutrients for the organisms
    - Lowers pH somewhat.

    Benefits of mulch
    Mulch does not get worked into the soil. It sits on top of your irrigation system and helps:

    - Control weeds
    - Prevent erosion
    - Preserve soil moisture
    - Keep roots cool and moist

    - March, April, May, Any month

2. What to plant

  • "Arboretum All-Stars" -

    Arboretum All Stars logoThis is the best tool for landscape planning available to Northern California gardeners! The UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars are plants found to be especially successful in California. The website covers essential planting basics for landscape planning, including easy-to-grow plants with low-water needs, fewer pest problems, and other outstanding qualities. As an added bonus, most are California natives that attract beneficial wildlife.

    - April, October, Any month
  • Creating a Pollinator Garden -

    Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma. It is a requirement for the production of fruits and seeds. In addition to wind and water, pollinators include bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bats, flies, and beetles.

    You can support the pollination process—and help counter habitat destruction—by selecting plants attractive to common pollinators. UC has many resources for planning a pollinator garden. Here are a few to get you started!

    - Any month
  • Tree help -

    The city of San Jose has multiple resources for the home gardener. See their webpage on tree care. Oak trees (valley, live, blue), big leaf maples, and buckeyes are great choices for our region.
    SelecTree: A Tree Selection Guide from CalPoly can help with selecting the right tree for the right place in your landscape.     
    Apply for stewardship of one or more trees for 3-5 years at Our City Forest.

    - September, October, Any month
  • Vegetable Planting Chart -

    Wondering what vegetables can be planted now? To get the best success—whether planting from seed or transplants—refer to our Santa Clara County Vegetable Planting Chart. It's based on our own garden experiences.

    - February, March, May, June, July, August, November, Any month

3. Pests and Diseases

  • Ailing Ornamental Trees -

    If you have an ailing tree, here are some questions you can ask yourself to begin diagnosing the problem: is the entire canopy of the tree affected? If the answer is yes, you can reasonably guess that something is wrong below the soil. A lack of nutrients (refer to the UC Pest Note on Mineral Deficiencies) will likely cause the leaves to either die (necrosis) or lose color (chlorosis). Too much or too little water will also cause foliage problems (See UC Pest Note on Poor Water Management, Poor Drainage).

    If only parts of the tree are affected, it is likely your problem is above ground. Is there a pattern to the distress? You can rule out or suspect sunscald by determining which side of the tree faces the harshest sun (UC Pest Note on Sunburn).

    What kind of tree is it? Is there new growth? If there is, that’s a great sign that a single event rather than an ongoing problem distressed your tree. The UC IPM website will direct you to species-specific pests and disorders to begin diagnosing your tree's ailments.

    - August, Any month
  • Ant Control -

    On outdoor and sometimes indoor plants, ants protect and care for honeydew-producing insects such as aphids, soft scales, whiteflies, and mealybugs, increasing damage from these pests.

    Ants are among the most prevalent pests in households. UC IPM offers steps to follow in an Ant Emergency.

    Ant management requires diligent efforts and the combined use of mechanical, cultural, sanitation, and often chemical control methods. It is unrealistic and impractical to attempt to totally eliminate ants from an outdoor area. Focus your management efforts on excluding ants from buildings or valuable plants and eliminating their food and water sources. Reducing outdoor sources of ants near buildings will reduce the likelihood of ants coming indoors.

    Ants on Trees and Shrubs

    When numerous ants are found on plants, they are probably attracted to the sweet honeydew deposited on the plants by honeydew-producing insects such as aphids or soft scales. Ants may also be attracted up into trees or shrubs by floral nectar or ripening or rotten sweet fruit. These ants can be kept out by banding tree trunks with sticky substances such as Tanglefoot. Trim branches to keep them from touching structures or plants so that ants are forced to try to climb up the trunk to reach the foliage.

    When using Tanglefoot on young or sensitive trees, protect them from possible injury by wrapping the trunk with a collar of heavy paper, duct tape, or fabric tree wrap and coating this with the sticky material. Check the coating every one or two weeks and stir it with a stick to prevent the material from getting clogged with debris and dead ants, which will allow ants to cross. Ant stakes with bait can also be used around trees.

    For more information about what ant baits and insecticides to use, please consult the UC Pest Note on Ants.

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Armored Scale Control -

    These parasites suck the living sap from shrubs and trees. Armored scale insects are in the crawler stage in early summer (June). Armored scale has a hard stage that is very resistant to sprays. Control them during the crawler stage when they are soft and vulnerable. Spray with a horticultural (not dormant) oil, once a month for three months. See the UC Pest Note on Scales for important information about spraying.

    - June, Any month
  • Citrus Fruit Damage -

    Your oranges are ready to pick when they turn a nice bright orange. The ones on the sunny side of the tree generally ripen first. If you don't get to them first, there are critters that will let you know when they are ripe. Snails leave little holes in the outside peel, rats hollow out the fruit, and squirrels carry them off, often leaving partly eaten fruit on a nearby fence. UC Davis offers a detailed table to help identify citrus damage from insects and other pests.

    - February, Any month
  • Gophers -

    Our local gophers are also called pocket gophers. They make their presence known with crescent shaped mounds of dirt in the garden. Snacking on plant and tree roots as they tunnel through the soil, they are active year round and can have up to three litters each season in well-watered areas. Gophers also gnaw on irrigation lines and divert water into their tunnels, making it difficult to properly water plants. Adults live about three years. Homeowners can use several methods to control them. Locating the main tunnel is the first step. Placing Macabee or Gophinator or box traps or poison baits are explained in detail in the UC Pest Note on Gophers. Another method involves excluding them with wire fencing. Ultrasonic devices and chewing gum have been tested and are not considered to be effective.

    - May, June, July, Any month
  • Integrated Pest Management and Beneficial Insects -

    UC IPM LogoOur gardens contain far more beneficial insects than pests. Any time pesticides are used, both good and bad insects die. This upsets garden ecosystems. Use of pesticides can also pollute waterways and may put our children and pets at risk, along with other environmental consequences. We can dramatically reduce pest problems by practicing  Integrated Pest Management, which includes planting native species, following good cultural practices, and encouraging beneficial insects, such as lady beetles, lacewings and soldier beetles

    - April, May, June, July, August, September, October, Any month
  • Rats -

    Have you found snail empty shells stashed in out of the way places, hollowed out Navel oranges, Meyer lemons with no skins, tomatoes with bite marks, fruit with holes gnawed in them or grape skins or cherry tomato skins scattered around? This could indicate the presence of rats. The UC IPM Pest Note on Rats provides a wealth of scientific information.

    Rats show up when your citrus, tomato or fruit first start to ripen. Rats are agile climbers and usually live and nest in shrubs, trees, and dense ground cover like ivy. Good sanitation is required. Garbage and garden debris should be eliminated. Use tight fitting lids on garbage cans. Thin out dense vegetation to make the habitat less desirable. Mow ivy once a year to the ground. Climbing ivies on fences or buildings should be removed.

    Trapping is the safest and easiest method for controlling rats. The simple snap trap is effective. The most important thing about trapping rats is to have lots of patience and keep trying. Wet some oatmeal enough for it to hold together, add dog or cat kibble or bits of lightly cooked bacon mixed in. Tie a walnut to the trigger and add a dab of peanut butter.

    Other baits to try are peanut butter and fresh fruit, but try to have something tied to the trigger. Set traps where rats are likely to travel or where you see droppings along fence lines or buildings. Bait the trap but do not set it for several days. Try different baits in multiple traps until you find one the rats like. Put two traps facing each other. After the rats are accustomed to being fed, then set the traps. If the rat springs the trap but doesn't get caught, move the traps to a different place and change to different baits. Rats prefer secluded spots and will be less wary there. Be sure to secure the trap with a wire or nails. Above all be patient and use multiple traps.

    - March, April, July, August, September, Any month
  • Squirrel Control -

    Squirrels can be particularly annoying because they tend to take one bite out of each piece of fruit, rather than eating the whole thing and leaving the other fruit intact. They are difficult to control, but you can try some of the methods recommended in UC Pest Note on Tree Squirrels and UC Pest Note on Ground Squirrels.

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Weed Management -

    Whichever variation of “One year’s seeds makes seven years’ weeds” you prefer, the truth remains: a key part of weed control is not letting them go to seed. For best results, work on removing weeds before they go to seed, and when the ground is moist. Hand pulling and hoeing are effective methods for killing many common weeds. Knowing what kind of weeds you have can be helpful in choosing the best management method - to learn more, see UC's Weed Gallery for help identifying weeds and the UC Pest Note on Weed Management in Landscapes for information about control.

    - March, April, May, June, July, August, Any month

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